BLM grazing study no excuse for inaction

The Bureau of Land Management's long-awaited finding that cattle grazing harms the flora and fauna of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument should not be an excuse to sidetrack a historic agreement between environmental groups and ranchers to retire grazing leases from monument land.

The BLM was ordered to study the effects of grazing as part of President Clinton's monument declaration in 2000. The release of the agency's findings two weeks ago kicked off a 30-day public comment period, to be followed by an environmental assessment and then a decision on future grazing sometime next year.

The terms of the proclamation make it clear that grazing cattle on monument land will become a thing of the past. But that will take time, and could lead to a court battle that would further delay moving cattle off the monument.

Meanwhile, a four-year effort to craft an agreement between ranchers and environmental groups is one step closer to success. Completing the task will require Congress to designate part of the monument as wilderness and to permit the ranchers to retire their grazing leases in exchange for private cash payments from the environmental groups.

The plan originally called for federal payments to the ranchers as well, but congressional leaders have said no measure will pass if any public money is included.

When we last urged this solution forward in May, the two sides were still waiting to sign binding agreements that would guarantee payments from the environmental groups to the ranchers when the wilderness designation was enacted. Five ranchers representing nearly all the grazing allotments on the monument have now signed those agreements.

What is needed now is a commitment from Oregon's congressional delegation to move the legislation out of the Senate and through the House, where 2nd District Congressman Greg Walden has insisted that federal money be included, even though it would doom the legislation.

The ranchers have sent letters to Walden's office urging him to accept the deal as signed and to introduce a bill in the House with wording identical to the Senate version to help ensure quick action when the Senate measure reaches the lower chamber. He should put aside his reservations and support a solution that, while not perfect, is better than nothing.

The days of grazing cattle on the monument are clearly numbered in any case, but this agreement would end that grazing faster, permanently protect a unique ecosystem as wilderness and provide some compensation to the cattle ranchers.

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